Home to school transport: a guide for constituents

Tags: school transport, learner, free transport, local authority, local authorities, Wales, learners, arrangements, transport costs, Welsh Government, travel arrangements, reasonable adjustments, transport arrangements, Operational Guidance, learning difficulty, learning difficulties, discretionary powers, Learner Travel Operational Guidance, travel arrangement, National Assembly, Welsh Government Learning Grant
Content: PHOTO REDACTED DUE TO THIRD PARTY RIGHTS OR OTHER LEGAL ISSUES Research Briefing Home to school transport - a guide for constituents Author: Siвn Hughes Date: June 2016 National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The National Assembly for Wales is the democratically elected body that represents the interests of Wales and its people, makes laws for Wales and holds the Welsh Government to account. Author: Siвn Hughes Date: June 2016 Paper Number: FAQ16-010 Front Cover: Image from Wikimedia by Nick Richards. Licensed under Creative Commons Contact Us Research Service National Assembly for Wales T Hywel Cardiff Bay Cardiff CF99 1NA q: 0300 200 6292 E: [email protected] y: Assembly.Wales/InBrief a: @SeneddResearch a: Assembly.Wales/Research © National Assembly for Wales Commission Copyright 2016 The text of this document may be reproduced free of charge in any format or medium providing that it is reproduced accurately and not used in a misleading or derogatory context. The material must be acknowledged as copyright of the National Assembly for Wales Commission and the title of the document specified.
Research Briefing Home to school transport - a guide for constituents This paper provides information on frequently asked questions about home to school transport. National Assembly for Wales Research Service
Contents Legal position and statutory guidance....................................................................1 Assessing need ...............................................................................................................1 The duty to provide home to school transport .....................................................1 Walking distances ......................................................................................................................................................................... 1 Nearest suitable school and parental preference........................................................................................................... 2 Discretionary provisions..............................................................................................2 equality legislation and school transport ..............................................................3 special educational Needs ..........................................................................................3 Safety .................................................................................................................................. 4 Charging for home to school transport...................................................................4 financial support for home to school transport ..................................................5 Youth Concessionary Fare Scheme...................................................................................................................................... 5 Welsh Government Learning Grant FE................................................................................................................................. 5 Financial Contingency Funds (FCF) ....................................................................................................................................... 5 Where to find information............................................................................................5
Legal position and statutory guidance The main legislation in respect of home to school transport is the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008. The Welsh Government has also published statutory Learner Travel Operational Guidance (June 2014) [PDF 887KB] which outlines statutory provisions, specific DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES for relevant bodies. The Learner Travel Information (Wales) Regulations 2009 set out the information that local authorities must publish. Section 444 of the Education Act 1996 creates the offence on the part of a parent of failing to secure the regular attendance at school of a registered pupil. Section 20 of the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure amends section 444 to provide that a parent will have a defence to a prosecution if a local authority has failed to discharge, where required, their statutory duties under the Measure to make travel arrangements to facilitate the attendance of their child at school. Assessing need Local authorities are required to assess the travel needs of learners who are aged under 19 in their area. This includes those who they are legally required to provide transport for and those for whom they may wish to provide discretionary transport when assessing travel needs. An authority is also required to have regard to: The needs of disabled learners and learners with learning difficulties; Any particular needs of learners who are `looked after' or formerly looked after by a local authority; The age of a learner; The nature of the route that the learner is expected to take between home and the places where they receive education or training. In assessing the travel needs of learners, local authorities must take into account the fact that travel arrangements they make in light of the assessment must not cause unreasonable levels of stress, take an unreasonable amount of time or be unsafe. The Measure does not specify a time limit for journeys. However, local authorities are required to assess the individual needs of learners when considering if a journey time is reasonable. The duty to provide home to school transport Local Authorities must provide free home to school transport if a pupil is living either at, or further than specific distances from the nearest, suitable school. This duty only relates to home to school transport and not transport during the school day, for example between a school and a college. Walking distances The Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008 sets out the distance criteria whereby learners are entitled to free transport to and from their nearest suitable school. Distances below these thresholds are referred to as `walking distances'. Local authorities have a legal duty to provide free home to school transport for learners of compulsory school age. For those attending secondary school the distance is pupils who live 3 miles or further from their nearest suitable school; For primary schools, the walking distance is 2 miles. 1
The Measure sets out that the walking distance should be measured by the `shortest available route'. A route is considered to be `available' if it is safe (as far as reasonably practicable) for a learner without a disability or learning difficulty to walk the route alone (or with an accompanying adult if the learner's age and levels of understanding requires this). If a route is not `available' and there is no alternative available walking route within the respective distance threshold, the learner cannot be expected to walk to their nearest suitable school, even though the distance from home to school is less than the distance limit that applies to the learner's age. In such cases the local authority has a duty to provide the learner with free transport to and from their nearest suitable school. The Learner Travel Operational Guidance (2014) includes details on risk assessing walked routes to school. Local authorities must have regard to this guidance. Nearest suitable school and parental preference The Learner Travel Operational Guidance defines `nearest suitable school': "where the `education or training provided is suitable having regard for the age, ability and aptitudes of the learner and any learning difficulties he or she may have'". In deciding if a school is `suitable', the Learner Travel Operational Guidance states that local authorities need to consider the suitability of the school when deciding if the placement is appropriate for the learner. Deciding which suitable school is the learner's `nearest' is a matter for the local authority to determine in accordance with their own learner travel and education policy. Local authorities must to set out how the nearest suitable school is identified and publish this information in their learner travel policy in accordance with provisions outlined in the Learner Travel Information (Wales) Regulations 2009. Neither the child's or parent's language preference or mother tongue, nor religious faith or conviction of the child or his or her parent have any bearing on whether a school is considered suitable for these purposes. However, it is noteworthy that in the light of recent judicial review challenges, some Local Authorities have reviewed their home to school transport policies and now go beyond their statutory duty to do give consideration to language and faith preferences when determining the `nearest' school. The same age and distance criteria apply to `looked after' children as to those who are not looked after. But the provision that the learner must attend their nearest suitable school to their home does not apply to looked after learners in the same way it applies to learners who are not looked after. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 allows parents and learners to express a preference for a particular school. If preference is exercised and the chosen school is not the nearest suitable school agreed by the local authority, the learner is not entitled to free transport provision. However, the Measure provides local authorities with powers to provide discretionary home to school transport for learners who are not attending their nearest suitable school in a range of circumstances. Discretionary provisions As well as the duty to provide transport to some pupils, a local authority has discretionary powers to provide home to school transport for other learners. A local authority does not have to use their discretionary powers to provide free or assisted travel. The power applies in relation to a learner living or studying in the authority's area. 2
However, if a local authority does make use of their discretionary powers, the authority must ensure that the policy applies to all learners in similar circumstances living in that authority's area. The local authority should ensure that any policy is fair, reasonable and complies with relevant equality legislation to ensure that they do not discriminate unlawfully between learners when using their discretionary powers. This has been highlighted by the Courts in recent judicial review cases. While local authorities are not required to offer free transport, examples of where discretionary transport provision might be used include: Children under the age of five - local authorities are required to assess the travel needs of learners who are under the compulsory school age attending nursery education and who are ordinarily resident in the authority's area; Welsh medium schools that are not the nearest suitable schools - local authorities and Welsh Ministers have a duty under the Learner Travel Measure to `promote access to education and training through the medium of Welsh' when deciding which schools are most suitable for learners in their area; Faith schools that are not the nearest suitable schools; Post-16 learners who continue their studies in mainstream further education or training. Equality legislation and school transport Schedule 3, Part 2, section 11 of the Equality Act 2010 includes exceptions in relation to religious or belief-related discrimination with regard to the provision of services. It states that in relation to religious or belief related discrimination, the provisions of the Equality Act do not apply with regard to transport to or from school. Therefore, it is legal to provide more favourable treatment to pupils of one particular religion or belief over another type of religion or belief. However, local authorities still need to ensure that their transport polices do not unlawfully discriminate in relation to other protected characteristics or contravene the human rights Act and also that they comply with the statutory Learner Travel guidance. Special Educational Needs When determining whether a child is attending their nearest suitable school, a local authority must take into account the suitability of that school by having regard to (amongst other things) any learning difficulties the learner may have, irrespective of whether the learner has a statement of special educational needs (SEN). If an independent school named in a statement for a child or a non-maintained special school is determined to be a learner's nearest suitable school and the learner meets the eligibility criteria for free transport a local authority is required to provide free home to school transport provision for the learner. The transport arrangements for a learner with SEN will depend on their individual circumstances and the route they must travel. The Measure provides that, if a learner of compulsory school age cannot walk (accompanied or unaccompanied) to their nearest suitable school, because of a disability or learning difficulty which they have, even if the distance to their nearest suitable school is less than the statutory limit for their age group, there is a duty on local authorities to make suitable travel arrangements for that child. The local authority will need to consider what arrangements are 3
appropriate to facilitate the learner's attendance at school in accordance with their learner travel policy. Section 4 of the Measure in effect creates a specific requirement for local authorities to adjust their travel arrangement provision so that if a child with a disability or learning difficulty lives closer to their nearest suitable school than the specified walking distances, but travel arrangements are necessary to facilitate the child's attendance at that school, the authority has a duty to make those arrangements. However, the `reasonable adjustments' (under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010) duty is still relevant to the nature of transport or travel arrangements which the local authority make under the Measure. The local authority should ensure that the arrangements they make allow disabled learners to benefit in the same way as those who are not disabled ­ for example, by ensuring that the transport provided is accessible and safe for the particular disabled learner. Safety The Learner Travel Operational Guidance states that `the safety of children is of paramount importance' and local authorities are required to assess the suitability of travel for learners between home and places of education and training. When assessing learner needs, the guidance lists a number of things that a local authority is required to have regard to. This includes `the nature of the route that the learner is expected to take between home and the places where they receive education or training.' Neither the Measure nor the guidance specifically mention hazardous route assessments for walking routes to pick up points. However, the then Minister for Economy, Science and Transport SAid in a letter to all Assembly Members (October 2015) [PDF 159KB] that where travel arrangements made by local authorities require children to walk to and from pick up points for learner transport, they must ensure that both the walked route and the learner transport itself are suitable. Guidance on risk assessing dedicated school service contracts is provided in the Welsh Government Guidance on Home to School Transport risk assessments (2009) [PDF561KB]. Charging for home to school transport Local authorities may not charge for transport arrangements that they have a duty to make for learners of compulsory school age, except in relation to looked after children where the authority making the travel arrangements for a child who is looked after by another authority. In these cases it can recoup costs from the placing local authority. When a local authority uses its powers to provide discretionary travel arrangements for learners not entitled to free transport provision, a charge can be made for these arrangements. For learners who are not of compulsory school age, there is no restriction on charging. For learners of compulsory school age, charging must be in accordance with section 455 and 456 of the Education Act 1996. Disabled learners may have specific transport requirements (or reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 required for this) which may result in increased transport costs. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits an authority charging for any reasonable adjustments it has made for disabled learners. 4
This means if the cost of providing transport for a disabled learner is higher than it would be if the authority were providing transport for a non-disabled learner, (for example, if the transport provided for a disabled learner includes the need for an escort or the use of a specialised vehicle), the authority cannot charge a higher amount for the use of the specialised vehicle and/ or escort (or any other reasonable adjustment) even though the cost to the local authority may be higher. Financial support for home to school transport Some potential sources of funding to help meet the costs of learner transport are listed below. Youth Concessionary Fare Scheme The Welsh Government has a youth discount bus travel scheme. This provides discounted travel on buses for those aged between 16 and 18 who live in Wales and may be used for school or college transport. This provides a discount of a third of the cost of fares. Applications and further information can be found on the Mytravelpass website. Welsh Government Learning Grant Further Education While not funding specifically for learner transport, learners aged 19 and over may be eligible for the Welsh Government Learning Grant (FE). This grant is based on the amount of the student's household income. To be eligible a student must be studying at least 275 hours at a participating college and the course must lead to a nationally recognised qualification. A student's household income must be Ј18,370 or less in order to receive Welsh Government Learning Grant FE. Further information can be seen on the Student Finance Wales website. Financial Contingency Funds (FCF) The FCF was introduced to support post-16 students, who face financial difficulties and who, without support, are likely to leave their education. The Welsh Government makes available annual FCF monies to individual further education institutions to administer to their students on a discretionary basis. The FCF is generally available to eligible students to assist with childcare, books, equipment and transport costs. Funds are administered by individual institutions. Where to find information The Learner Travel Information (Wales) Regulations 2009 require local authorities to publish information on travel arrangements. Local authorities are required to publish information including: The general policy on free transport; The general policy on transport for learners for whom free transport is not provided; The circumstances in which reasonable travel expenses will be made; Arrangements and policies for learners with disabilities or learning difficulties The information must be made available by the 1 October in the preceding academic year to which the information relates. In addition local authorities must provide free of charge and on request information relating to: The assessment of learner travel needs; The suitability of transport arrangements; Decisions as to whether a route is `available'; 5
Decisions as to whether travel arrangements are necessary to facilitate the attendance of the child each day at the relevant place where they receive education or training; Decisions to make travel arrangements using discretionary powers. Generally, local authority websites publish information on school transport arrangements within their admissions information, as recommended by the Welsh Government, to help parents understand any cost implications of any parental preference they may make about their child's school. 6

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